In last five years, at least 20 indigenous rice varieties, used to make a range of grain foods and dishes such as Muri, Chira, Khoi, Biriyani, Firni and Payesh, have gone extinct from Lakshmipur as the high-yielding hybrid rice varieties are dominating rice cultivation to ensure food security.

Many farmers, agro businesspeople and industry stakeholders say steps should be taken to preserve local rice varieties across the country.

Md Manchu Bepari (70) of the Char Lawrence village of the district’s Kamalnagar upazila said he is cultivating few high-yielding varieties on 15-acre land in the current Aman season.

He said that in the past he used to cultivate other varieties including rice for muri, chira and khoi but not anymore.

Farmer Abdur Rahman of Char Monsa in sadar upazila, said even five years ago he used to cultivate aromatic varieties Kalojeera and Shakkorkhora, which are only used for polao and firni, on half the land he cultivated.  

Like Abdur Rahman, many farmers of his area have opted for high-yielding varieties instead of the indigenous ones.

Md Ismail, another Char Mansa farmer, said in the past almost all farmers used to cultivate Holidhan rice in the Aush season.

The Holidhan variety, once famous for sweet chira, has completely disappeared since the last five years.

Lohachura, which was well-known in Lakshmipur for khoi, and Geegs, which was used to make muri, have also gone extinct.

Saleh Uddin Palash, plant conservation officer of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), said 13 indigenous varieties have disappeared in the last 5 years – Madhumalti, Kalarajashail, Lotorh, Bajailsada, Rajashail, Agunishail, Katishail, Kutia Moni, Pakkiraj, Patjat, Lohachura, Dholamoda and Nonahail.

“Currently, farmers cultivate five indigenous varieties – Geegs, Bhushihara, Kajalshail, Kalojira and Shakkarkhora – in a very small quantity,” he said.

Kalahatiya is the only indigenous variety of the Aush season that is still cultivated, according to farmers.

Seven Aush season varieties – Bolaim, Goyal, Holidhan, Marhicha, Kerondol, Kotoktara and Panbira – have disappeared in the last five years.

Local farmer Mamunur Rashid Bhuiyan said that government subsidies should be given to rice farmers of grain foods, just as special loans and subsidies are given to oilseeds.

DAE Deputy Director Zakir Hossain said 3-4 indigenous varieties are cultivated during Aman season and 2-3 varieties in the Aush season.

He added that 90% of the varieties which are cultivated in the Aush, Aman and Boro seasons are now high-yielding hybrids.

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRI) developed 106 high-yielding rice varieties including 23 Aush, 7 hybrids, and 46 Amon till 2021. On the other hand, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) developed 30 varieties. However, in Lakshmipur, a key paddy production area, only 3-4 varieties are cultivated every season.

From 1998 to 2020, the Seed Board allowed imports of 170 hybrid rice varieties – 18 Aman varieties and 152 Boro varieties.

Professor Mahbubur Rahman of the Greenland Project of the Sabuj Bangladesh, said gene banks should be established at the district level to save the indigenous rice varieties.

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